It was my junior year in high school when I read George Orwell’s “1984,” and first came across the above lines. Those who have read this heartbreakingly realistic and perfectly depicted yet incredibly scary novel may also remember them. For those who haven’t, these lines are the slogan of the party that in the book rules as the government—the controlling and manipulative government. The novel basically revolves around Winston Smith, through whom we get to learn more about the state of the government and the public: the latter’s fears, including the fear of thinking freely and for themselves; the “thought police”—that’s right, it’s exactly what you perceive from the phrase itself; “Big Brother”; censorship to the fullest extent; and so on. Orwell tells us about a post-World War II era in which the government controls every single aspect that makes us human, from the way we think to the way we speak. Choose your words correctly, do not think unless it is in favor of the government, do not judge or assess anything that is imposed on you and the public, and stay away from extreme feelings like love and hate—but bear in mind that hate is good if you spot anyone plotting against the government. This basically sums up the state of the government in Orwell’s “1984.”
I hadn’t thought about “1984” or “Fahrenheit 451” or “Brave New World” in years, up until very recently. But lately, I keep having dreams that include flashing images from these novels. Then I wake up to see that they in fact are not dreams, which is even scarier. Most of the dystopian novels that I’ve read, I read in a row, one after another, which made me kind of tired of that type of soul-wrenching atmosphere. Ergo, I think I didn’t really appreciate some of them and how significant what they depicted was. Anyway, as I began to see how important they all were—alongside how beautifully written they all were—the first ones to come to my mind were the works I listed above. However, among those three, I believe the one that got to me the most was Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” which depicts a society in which access to knowledge and questioning are forbidden. I don’t know if it is the relatable and very elaborate characters—who made me completely angry at times—or elements of the plot, especially the book burning and the woman who burns herself rather than see her books get incinerated, that made me believe it is the best. I want to emphasize the word “relatable” here. I wish we weren’t able to find the book-burning government so familiar. I wish I could find it strange that Clarisse is an outcast because of her “why” questions. And I wish Mildred Montag—the easily manipulated and confused wife of the protagonist Guy Montag; a TV addict and victim of conformity, since she isn’t brave enough to break out of it—didn’t seem so familiar. But they all do seem very familiar. They are here with us. I have a Mildred Montag as an acquaintance or perhaps a neighbor. We all have at least a little of bit of Clarisse McClellan in us. Some of us are much like the lady who sacrifices herself to escape the agony of losing her books, or rather the agony of becoming ignorant and suppressed. And most of us are just as confused and scared as Guy
Montag, seeking to find more answers to our questions but afraid that The Hound might be just a few steps away, out to get us.
But above all, the majority of us are very much like Faber. Faber is a former English professor very fond of reading and novels, who has deep regrets about not defending books as actively as he should have when the ban on them was implemented. And out of his regret, he teaches Montag all he knows and guides him to a better understanding of life overall. Although I am not writing a book review—the main purpose of this article is to emphasize something that has been going on for a long time in reality—I have to mention something about the clever choice of names: Montag is the name of a paper company, while Faber, as you may know, is part of the name of the famous German pencil manufacturers, Faber-Castell. Faber teaches Montag as if filling up a blank page. See what Bradbury did there? (Even though he stated that he found out about Montag, the paper company, after the book was published.)
Back to the opening of this article and “1984”: the slogan makes me feel infuriated and upset and frustrated, for it is a collection of the most unsettling and irksome ideas. I thought I understood the true meaning at the time I was reading the novel. After all, it really is not that hard to comprehend, because this was what happened in many countries before, during, and after the two World Wars. But you see that you understand it even better when you start experiencing some things firsthand—and note that this is not a positive thing. I would have advised anyone to read this book and many others like it, i.e., the other “utopia gone wrong” and dystopian novels. But I won’t. Why upset yourself even more?